Blame culture at the BBC led to unfair dismissal after £98m IT project failed


A culture of blame-shifting permeated the upper echelons of the BBC and contributed to the unfair dismissal of its former technology chief when a high-profile IT project went badly wrong, an employment tribunal found today.

John Linwood, who was paid a salary of £280,000 after being recruited from Yahoo! in 2009, was sacked in the wake of the £98.4m collapse of an attempt to integrate the BBC’s digital production system.

The Corporation, which announced that it had suspended Mr Linwood as its chief technology officer at the same time as it scrapped the project last summer, claimed that he had overseen a “massive waste of public funds” and had shirked responsibility for the failure of its Digital Media Initiative (DMI) to end all use of “tape”.

But Mr Linwood claimed he had been made a “scapegoat” for the failure and the troubled project - described by one executive as an attempt at “boiling the ocean” - need not have been entirely scrapped. The employment tribunal sided with him by finding that he had been unfairly dismissed from his post and subjected to a “fundamentally flawed” procedure to investigate alleged misconduct.

In a swingeing ruling, the tribunal found there existed in the BBC, still recovering from the Jimmy Savile at the time, a “deeply ingrained cultural expectation” that when something went wrong “on your watch” that executives deemed responsible for any failure would resign.

This in turn meant that the Corporation was suffused with “sensitivities, fears and anxieties” that managers would be left “carrying the can” for any fiasco and accordingly took action to ensure they avoided being singled out for responsibility.

The tribunal found: “This culture and climate gave rise to avoidance strategies, no doubt including, on occasion, the steering of the spotlight of blame in other directions, on the part of those who felt themselves to be in danger of association with a sinking ship”.

The 66-page judgment said the buck passing culture had been highlighted by the “quite extraordinarily unattractive” content of emails sent by Mr Linwood’s boss, Dominic Coles, and the BBC’s then creative officer, Pat Younge.

In one memo sent as the Corporation finalised the ending of DMI, Mr Younge said Mr Linwood could “just spin in the wind” while Mr Coles could “position yourself as the man who took it over, reviewed it and called time [on DMI]”.

The tribunal found that at a meeting of the Corporation’s executive board on 13 May last year, shortly after Tony Hall had arrived as the new director general, a decision had been made that “one way or another, [Mr Linwood] must go”.

It added it was likely this had flowed from an earlier meeting of the Corporation’s governing body, the BBC Trust, which it considered had effectively asked the Corporation’s executives to “find the culprit” for DMI’s failure.

When Mr Linwood refused to resign from his post and was subjected to a formal disciplinary procedure, the tribunal found the BBC breached its own rules and subjected its employee to an “apparently cavalier disregard for any of the accepted norms of a fair disciplinary process”.

In one incident, Mr Linwood asked for the postponement of a hearing to allow him time to read “thousands of emails” that had been disclosed to him shortly beforehand. The Corporation responded by bringing the meeting forward.

One of the human resources executives responsible for assessing Mr Linwood’s case - Clare Dyer - may not have read some key documents and had “appeared to regard the detail and the documents as a tiresome and unduly time-consuming distraction from the task in hand”, the tribunal found.

The former technology officer, who was found to have been 15 per cent responsible for his own dismissal, said the ruling was a “complete vindication” of his decision to fight the Corporation.

His solicitor Louise Hobbs said: “The judgment gives an unedifying insight into the inner workings of the BBC at senior management level.”

The BBC said it was “disappointed” but accepted the ruling. In a statement, the Corporation said: “We had a major failure of a significant project, and we had lost confidence - as the tribunal acknowledges - in John Linwood. At the time we believed we acted appropriately. The tribunal has taken a different view.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Guru Careers: Senior Account Manager / SAM

£30 - 35k: Guru Careers: A Senior Account Manager / SAM is needed to join the ...

Guru Careers: Management Accountant

£27 - 35k + Bonus + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Management Accountant is needed ...

Guru Careers: Recruitment Resourcer / Recruitment Account Manager

£20 - 25k + Bonus: Guru Careers: Are you a Recruitment Consultant looking to m...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin (based in London)

£20000 - £25000 per annum + commission: SThree: Real Staffing's Pharmaceutical...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power